Monday, February 27, 2012

A Separation Review

My brief Oscar preview of A Separation:

A Separation is a taut and enthralling film, compelling in its very realism. Although there is a complexity of narratives, including a court drama and an “everything is a version of something else”/who is telling the truth element, it is ultimately a film about a broken home. How stereotype-shattering that a divorce film be Iranian—all the more because the prevailing Western notion of divorce in a Muslim country is either as something as easily levied against women as a male declaring “I divorce you” three times or as something so verboten as to never take place. A Separation’s Iran is a modern, complex [and contradictory] place—a cosmopolitan landscape of traffic jams and women-initiated divorces. Yet, it is also a place of profound class fissures, economic strife, and a religiosity that, as we see in the film, may not be as top-down and imposed as the prevailing notion. Razieh, the woman Nadir hires to take care of his Alzheimer’s-ailing father, is so devout, she calls the mullah to inquire whether her nursing duties, which include changing a man, are a sin. One gets the sense that swearing on a Quran has an incomprehensible onus and gravity—even when she could desperately use the blood money for her family, her spiritual concerns trump all others.

A Separation is also a film about family. There are no one-dimensional “bad guys” to be found and the characters are compelling and universal. Nader’s devotion to his father and his daughter paints him as a man struggling, and at times failing, to keep his family together, a far cry from the patriarchal despot archetype. It is through Termeh, the 11-year-old daughter’s eyes, that the pain of the rift is most palpable as she stoically struggles with the ever-shifting tides and waves that buffet what were once their very normal lives. The theme of fighting vs. running away from things is at the core of the conflict of the film. Without resorting to fantastically left-field or implausible plot twists, A Separation is an absolutely mesmerizing portrayal of playing along with an increasingly upped ante of emotional tolls that life can realistically be.

Rampart Review

My review of Rampart:
In the pantheon of crooked cop movies like Training Day and Bad Lieutenant, Rampart shines as a unique character study, relying more heavily on the psychological element rather than the thrills that are hallmarks of the film noir genre. Woody Harrelson’s Dave Brown is not the typical one-dimensional thug or the sociopathic power-abuser with simple motivations of greed and control. His performance is intense, roiling with an undercurrent of claustrophobia and threat; he's a man on the brink of a complete unraveling.
Co-written by crime novelist extraordinaire [The Black Dahlia, L.A. Confidential] James Ellroy, Rampart is partly inspired by the real-life story of the scandal that rocked the Rampart District of the LAPD in the 1990s, where nearly 70 of the department’s force were accused of egregious misconduct and, essentially, running a gang of their own.
The movie, set in 1999, riffs on the tensions that the Rodney King case stirred up. The action unfolds with Dave getting caught on video beating a suspect. The film has some vaguely X-Files-ish overtones: there is the ear-whispering Smoking Man played by a reptilian Ned Beatty. Dave Brown seems to have no problem digging his own grave, but there is no shortage of people handing him shovels either. When he is wryly advised that he “could just stop beating people up," Dave acerbically retorts, "I don't stop to see if there's a camera in my way when I do the people's dirty work.” No doubt he can’t really be “framed” for something he did anyway, but there is also the sense that Dave will be the poster child for the department’s crackdown on malfeasance. The shifting tide seems destined to sweep Dave with it and his refusal to change (or maybe inability) now has deleterious consequences.
This is some of what makes his character so interesting and different from the macho caricatures of Training Day and Bad Lieutenant. After 24 years on the force, he is equal parts placated by rationalizations yet crippled with guilt. He is not so far gone beyond the moral boundaries to be unaware of them and his coping mechanisms seem to be a result of his view of the world as an antagonistic place, not too different from a jungle. When he tells a wide-eyed rookie, "Everything you learned at the Academy is bullshit. This is a military occupation," we see that he probably believes that, or at least that this is a suitable enough cover that lets him sleep at night.
Director Oren Moverman's cinematography is perfect for setting the tense atmosphere of the film. Extremely close shots convey the feeling of claustrophobia and paranoia. No one is what they seem to be and answers are hard to come by. Brown is a complex and conflicting study of a man—he may act like a thug, but he is extremely eloquent and clearly very smart. He is not the compulsive womanizer of the cop movie past; if anything, he tries to be a good father and a husband (of sorts) to his two ex-wives. He is not nihilistic or self-destructive for the mere sake of it. At his core, Brown is characterized by cynicism and misanthropy: "I am not a racist. I hate all people." Ultimately, he wants to fix the mess he is in, yet his incorrigibility plunges him into quicksand.
Rampart is a taut and mesmerizing portrait of a man “falling down.” It steers clear of reductionist explanations and breathes a new life into tired genre.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Interview With The Prince Of Petworth

My Interview with the Humblingly Awesome Prince Of Petworth

Dan Silverman, The Prince Of Petworth blogger, is refreshingly old school in his sensibilities—mainly because he really is doing this for the community. His dedication literally emanates from him and his genuine love and appreciation for this city is clearly the only impetus he has. Utterly un-prince-like, Dan is charmingly humble and impressively curious and his knowledge of the city is what draws readers in. He goes out every day not in search of trendy happenings to report on, but for things that move people. His droll and thoroughly infectious enthusiasm for it is palpable—and gutsy—I mean only Prince Of Petworth can get away with posting pictures of doors because they are beautiful.

Like some modern day Lewis and Clark, he eschews the trappings of “cool.” You won’t find him to be a member of the hipsterhood, opting to instead literally tread this city on foot in search of beautiful things. Oh, and he definitely has a European definition of walkability—think 15-18 miles! With his trustee pocket notepad and a camera, The Prince goes in giant loops throughout the city, either following up on specific leads or just exploring. “My blogging day is very varied—I try to mix it up with a variety of things, not just keep it retail-focused. I try to find something that would be beautiful to share. When I discover something new, it’s the best feeling.”

“When I started the blog in 2006, I wanted to show was happening in Petworth, not in the whole city. When I moved to Petworth in 2003, my initial response was ‘I don’t see anything happening’ so I set out to write about things in my neighborhood. Things have definitely changed since then with tips coming in from people with the preface of, ‘I know it’s not in Petworth, but you might find this interesting.’”

5 Places I Love in DC:

1. Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park. I can’t think of a more beautiful place year around. The fountains in the summer, the vegetation in the spring, even in the winter when the leaves fall off the trees… It also has some of the most beautiful sculptures around—Dante, Joan Of Arc.

2. The waterfront areas of the city. It used to be that there was just the Georgetown one. Now there is Yards Park, Rock Creek Park, and so much more—I love water.

3. The neighborhoods themselves. There is something unique about every neighborhood and it is so nice to see the contrast in the architecture, the variety of it all…

4. The Aquatic Garden and the Arboretum. They are harder to get to without a car, but they are so huge and gorgeous and changing with the seasons.

5. Embassies. The embassies have such interesting architecture and I love stumbling upon a new one. Not too long ago, I was in Van Ness and I saw some embassies that I have not seen before—Pakistan, Egypt…what jaw-dropping architecture.

Dan Silverman

7 Things Essential To Me

1. A camera. More specifically, a Canon G11. That and the Flickr Pool.

2. Community. I do this for the community and the community is such an amazing thing to behold. People taking photos, people giving tips to me and to each other, the Flickr Pool—all this is what makes this site unique.

3. Music. I work by myself all day long and having music to listen to is essential to me. I listen to a wide mix of things – Beastie Boys, Pearl Jam, Drive By Truckers. I usually walk something like 15 to 18 miles a day—this is how walkable this city is. When I first moved to Petworth, I felt isolated, like I had to drive everywhere, but I quickly learned I could walk. This is how you see all the beautiful things and have a chance to really see stuff you had no idea was there.

4. Comfortable shoes—for all that walking.

5. The Old School Notepad. My wife makes fun of me for it, saying that it makes me look like a geek. Yet, I can’t do without it. This is where I jot down a note when I see a “coming soon” sign. Or stuff like “Remember to come back to XYZ.”

6. Coffee. I started out very pedestrian in my tastes and over time, my appreciation has really grown. If I want something fast and quick, Dunkin’ Donuts is best for taste and speed. The structure of the cup is just perfect for mobility and walking around all day. I find that I need coffee way more than food too—I could go all day on three cups of coffee.

7. My forgetfulness. Being forgetful is a great trait to have in such a finite geographic area. It’s a beautiful quirk that allows me to stumble upon things and rediscover them.